Learning & Behavior

, Volume 45, Issue 4, pp 335–354 | Cite as

Learning to play: A review and theoretical investigation of the developmental mechanisms and functions of cetacean play

  • Heather M. Hill
  • Sarah Dietrich
  • Briana Cappiello


Play is a behavioral phenomenon most commonly observed in the young of both solitary and social species. Documentation of play in cetaceans varies across species and settings. Cetacean play behavioral repertoires include a broad range of actions, such as the manipulation of diverse objects, blowing bubbles, chasing conspecifics, and swimming in spirals through the water. As is common in research on animal play, cetacean play has been grouped into categories by its form, including locomotor play, object play, and different variations of social play, such as affiliative games, play fighting, and socio-sexual play. Research has primarily focused on recording the topography of cetacean play and the demographics of the individuals engaging in play. However, these classifications are insufficient to address the possible developmental and societal functions of cetacean play behaviors, or the mechanisms with which play behaviors are spread between conspecifics and acquired by young members of cetacean populations. This article applies several developmental and social learning theories in order to organize current knowledge and guide future research.


Cetacean Social learning Development Play 


Author note

This article would not exist if not for the legacy of Stan Kuczaj and his continuous efforts to merge the worlds of human development and animal cognition into a cohesive and rich discipline. This article is truly a reflection of Stan’s passions and love of science. We thank the Psychonomic Society for the opportunity and its support in bringing together some of the world’s foremost thinkers to the same table for three days to hash out what we currently understand about the evolutionary perspective on play, through the Society’s Leading Edge Series. This article has also provided a remarkable experience for H.M.H., who was afforded the opportunity to participate in the workshop and the development of this paper with Stan’s unexpected passing. We hope the ideas in this article resonate with those Stan was seeking to promote when he joined forces with Lance Miller and Alex de Voogt to explore the fun yet challenging topic of what play is and what it means through the workshop. We also thank Kathleen Dudzinski for her helpful comments on a previous draft of this paper.


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Copyright information

© Psychonomic Society, Inc. 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Heather M. Hill
    • 1
  • Sarah Dietrich
    • 2
  • Briana Cappiello
    • 3
  1. 1.St. Mary’s UniversitySan AntonioUSA
  2. 2.University at Buffalo, State University of New YorkBuffaloUSA
  3. 3.The University of Southern MississippiHattiesburgUSA

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